Authors: Christine Feehan
He was telling her the truth. Whatever he had been through with the rest of his club had been horrific. There was a reason for that rage, and she didn’t want to know what it was. He was pulling her down with him, and on some level, he knew what he was doing. Unlike with the rage he couldn’t rid himself of, which he mostly ignored until it was too late, he knew that by lying on the bed with her, he was leaking his nightmares right into her.
Never made it out of what? Of where? He’d been
somewhere terrible. She caught glimpses. Images. Blood pouring down his back. Stripes on flesh. Children screaming. Moaning. Crying. Chains. She smelled burning flesh. She snapped her head back and forced herself to breathe, not to go there. Not to let herself see anything but the beautiful ink work on his back, and his muscles knotted and needing her touch.
She changed the massage to soothe him, her fingers not digging so deep but moving over the tree and branches with reverence. She worked the skin over the crows with a gentle touch. The skulls rolling through the roots were given a much harsher treatment. So many of them. Some old, some newer. She didn’t want to continue their game.
“How many men have you let screw you?”
The breath rushed out of her in an angry gush. “Oh my God. Are you kidding me? You can’t ask a question like that. What if I asked you that question?”
“I’d have to answer honestly, that’s the rule we set up. I’m not a coward. You ask, I tell. You want out of the game, you have to acknowledge you’re afraid.”
“Babe, you knew the first fuckin’ time you saw me that I was a jerk. Are you going to answer, or are you going to renege?”
She wasn’t a quitter, and her answer would only seal the deal between them. She couldn’t
fall for this man. Not ever. He would eat her alive.
“None.” She said it fast and kept working on his back, but she could feel the color sweeping up her skin.
“Fuck. Are you lying to me?” He half turned over to try to get a glimpse of her face.
She pushed him back down on the mattress, not wanting him to look at her. “What possible reason would I have to lie? It’s my turn. How many women have you had?”
“Too many to count. Hundreds. Could be more. Probably in the thousands.”
She closed her eyes and shook her head. She always,
always had to remember that answer. This man was not for her, and he never would be. He was so far out of her league. She’d be better off with perverted Joseph the parasite than him.
She had worked her way down to the band of his jeans. “Are you feeling better?” She moved off of him to her side of the bed.
“Why haven’t you been with a man?” Savage rolled over and once more reached out to the leg that was pitted and scarred, running his hand from her calf to the top of her thigh, rubbing gently as if he could remove the marks.
“My parents were both ill. My father had a heart condition and my mother had cancer. I was around eight or nine when my father’s condition was discovered. I took care of both of them. They homeschooled me. They were wonderful, and my childhood was happy. I never felt deprived. I started working outside the home when I was a teenager to help bring in money, but I always went home as soon as I could. That didn’t leave me a lot of time to find someone.”
She wasn’t going to tell him about the many dates she’d been on. The kisses that left her feeling ice-cold. Empty. She felt safer sitting up, keeping her back to the headboard. “Have you ever been married or had a child?”
“Technically, that’s two questions, but I’ll answer because you’re being so honest. Never been married and never had a kid. You ever fantasize about bondage?”
“Bondage?” she echoed faintly. Her heart began pounding in her throat. Could he read her mind? What did he know about her? “Why are all your questions sexual?”
“You can’t ask me that until you answer my question.” There was amusement in his voice.
“Yes, but it scares me. It would definitely have to be with a partner I trusted.”
“Doesn’t the fear heighten the sexual intensity?”
“I wouldn’t know, since I’ve never tried it, and won’t with someone I don’t trust. Maybe I’ll never try it. How
many women have you played this game with?” She wasn’t going to let him win. Damn him, anyway. She would answer every question as honestly as she could, and she wouldn’t be embarrassed if she ever saw him again.
“None. You’re the first and the only, and there won’t be another.”
He turned his head to look up at her, his fingers around her leg. “Because you’re the first woman I’ve ever met who is so fuckin’ honest you turn me inside out, and I want to know everything about you.”
That wasn’t the answer she was expecting. Looking into his blue eyes, she felt her heart stutter. His eyes were like blue flames. Intense. Burning through her. It was difficult not to see the honesty there or hear it in his voice. It was a compliment. A genuine one, and coming from him, when he clearly didn’t give them out easily, it meant too much to her.
He grinned at her and she knew she was in trouble. “Are you certain you don’t want to just go to sleep?”
“No. I want to keep you talking. But you could go back to rubbing my head.”
“You’re so needy.” But her hand dropped to the top of his skull and she began a slow, gentle massage.
“Were you going to audition with the band Thursday night?”
Her stomach knotted. This could be trouble. “No.”
“Because you wanted to avoid me?” He turned his head again to look up at her.
She couldn’t look away. “Yes.”
“Because you’re attracted to me.”
“That’s one of many reasons to avoid you, yes.”
He gave her a slow grin, and this time, it lit his eyes. The smile didn’t last long, but she’d seen it and she was happy she’d answered honestly.
“You do realize how bizarre this game is, don’t you, Savage?”
“Yes. Are you going to go on Thursday night now that we’ve gotten to know one another better?”
“It’s my turn to ask a question.” She glared at him indignantly.
“You asked me if I knew how bizarre this game was and I answered you. You have to answer my question. Pay attention, babe.”
“No. Absolutely not.”
“You know if you don’t come, I’m going to be here every single night until you do.”
Her fingers stopped. “That’s blackmail.”
“And you know I’ll do it.”
He sounded all too happy to annoy her.
She took a deep breath. He wanted honesty. “Savage, you know it isn’t a good idea that we spend a lot of time together. We aren’t . . .” She didn’t know what to say. “Compatible, for lack of a better word.”
“Baby, don’t fight the inevitable. I learned a long time ago not to do that. When you can’t change things, you go with the flow. We’re better friends than most people are. We might come from different worlds, but it doesn’t matter.”
“You aren’t going to get hurt. I will.”
There was a part of her that wanted him to deny that, but he didn’t. He fell silent for a long time, so long she thought about abandoning her bed and leaving him to it. She could sit in a chair for the rest of the night.
Savage suddenly turned over onto his belly, his arm sliding around her hips, pulling her down so he could rest his head on her stomach, as if seeking comfort. She couldn’t help but massage his neck. His arm was slung around her and he actually held her tight.
“Would that be worth it? You ran in front of a fucking truck to save my life. Are you saying you won’t take the
chance of being my friend because somewhere down the line you might get hurt?”
get hurt,” she corrected. He didn’t go without women, and it would hurt every single time she saw him with another woman, just to use her sexually.
“Our friendship wouldn’t be worth it to you?” he persisted.
There was an ache in his voice that tore at her heart, but she couldn’t just respond without really thinking it over. Would it? Savage didn’t have friends outside of Torpedo Ink. She instinctively knew that. She hadn’t called the cops the way she should have when he crept through her window, which was creepy any way you looked at it, yet she didn’t think of him as a creepy stalker.
Maybe the accident had tied them together in some way. But she knew it was far more than that. It was her personality, the way she was so drawn to him. She managed to give him whatever it was he needed. She drained off the rage and the need for violence swirling in him. More, she saw the good in him when not even he did. This wasn’t about her personally; this was about what her presence did for him. It was also what he gave her. She needed to be needed. She was desperate to give herself to someone who really needed her. That was so ingrained in her, she didn’t know how to live on a daily basis without some direction.
“You’re thinking too much,” he said, and turned his head to kiss her bare belly.
His lips just whispered over her, but it was a brand. A hot brand. She froze. “Savage. You can’t do that. I mean it. If we’re friends, you have to behave.”
“I don’t even know what that fuckin’ word means.” He turned his head, rubbing his face against that little strip of skin showing between her tank and her shorts, as if nuzzling her stomach.
She could feel the scrape of the shadow along his jaw. “Go to sleep. I mean it. I don’t want to talk to you anymore.”
“Two things and then I promise I’ll be quiet.”
She sighed and closed her eyes, her palm cupping the back of his head as he lay on her. “Just tell me. You’re not going to shut up until you get your way.”
“First, you’re coming on Thursday to audition with the band. I don’t want you to let them down on my account. Second, they’ll offer you the gig, because you sing like a fuckin’ angel. No one in their right mind would let you go. The money will be right and it’s close to home. If you want to earn more, they’ll offer you a bartending job.”
“How would you know if I can bartend?”
“The members of the band found out as much as they could about you. You were a waitress and then a bartender. Sometimes both. You don’t want to work the bar, then you could waitress for Alena. She’s got her restaurant opened and it’s always packed. So, plenty of work if you want the money.”
“Savage, you’re backing me into a corner.”
“I know. I’m good at that shit.”
His hand had slid down her thigh again, massaging the scars there. The sensation of his warm palm sent little darts of fire through her body. At the same time a shiver of awareness crept down her spine and fingers of desire danced their way up her thigh.
Did he know what he was doing? She doubted it. How could he know her reaction to just his light touch? He was rubbing her leg the way she massaged his head. Being sweet. But . . . he wasn’t sweet. Savage wasn’t the kind of man to do anything without purpose. He was very, very experienced in all things sexual. He knew she was physically attracted to him.
Narrowing her eyes, she glared at him and nearly shoved him off the bed, but then she realized he had gone to sleep. Just like that. Silently. He didn’t snore. He didn’t make a single sound. He just fell asleep, his breath coming and going from his lungs evenly.
Seychelle lay staring at the wall, her hand on his head, her heart pounding nearly as loud as the waves booming as they hit the cliffs.
Seychelle pulled her Mini Cooper into the space allotted for parking in what was supposed to pass for the entrance to the garage at Doris Fendris’s little home. Doris lived on one of the well-kept back streets of Sea Haven. The Victorian-styled houses had small but beautifully manicured yards surrounded by little fences overgrown with flowering hedges. Seychelle was very grateful for her choice of car and her ability to maneuver into small areas. For some unexplained reason, even the garage and space in front of the garage were tiny.
Of all the people she tended to visit on a regular basis, Doris was probably her favorite, because she was always upbeat. Her house smelled like fresh-baked cookies and it was always clean. The atmosphere was warm and welcoming. The porch was badly in need of repair, especially the front stairs. Seychelle carried her tools in the trunk of her car all the time. She wasn’t the handiest with them yet, but she was learning. She’d discovered she could find tutorials on just about anything on YouTube, and she visited the website regularly.
She’d purchased nails and a few other items she thought she’d need, but really, Doris needed the wood on her entire front porch replaced. Seychelle wasn’t quite up to replacing a porch yet. She’d bought the proper lengths of already cut wood necessary for the stairs, and then stained and sealed them herself. She thought she could pull up the old stairs and replace the boards with the new ones. She really hoped whatever the top boards sat on wasn’t rotted as she feared it might be.
She needed to keep herself busy. The moment she stopped, her mind went straight to Savage, which wasn’t a good thing. She thought about him far too much. She thought about the way his body felt next to hers and the way his hand felt crashing down on her nearly bare bottom. Long walks didn’t wear her out, and she didn’t sleep most nights. She hadn’t gone to the club Thursday night because she knew Savage would be there and she’d be too tempted to take the job just to stay connected to him.
Instead, she’d driven to El Matador Beach and stayed in a bed-and-breakfast she’d found after her parents had passed away. It was her go-to place when she was upset. She spent a week there, taking a picnic basket and book and going to various hidden coves she’d discovered. She did her best to try to forget all about Savage. She rented a bicycle and spent time exploring places she’d never been before, and then walked for hours in order to rid herself of the restless energy she found she had—or the dark fantasy thoughts she shouldn’t have.
Her phone rang the second day she was there. She saw it was a call from Savage and her heart went wild. It took every ounce of discipline she possessed not to answer it. He called on and off all that day and into the night.
Text messages began coming in. One after another.
You all right?
She didn’t answer. A day later:
Getting worried, woman.
The temptation to answer almost overcame her good sense, but she didn’t want to engage with him. The
third day he had clearly lost his good mood.
What the fuck, Seychelle? Getting pissed here. I’m worried.
Okay, that wasn’t fair on her part. She didn’t want to worry him. She just didn’t want to get her heart broken. She thought a lot about what to say back.
I’m fine, just thinking about things. Tell the band thanks, I really appreciate that they liked my voice, but it would be better if they got someone else.
Apparently, Savage was more adept at texting than she was. His reply took seconds.
You’re going to get yourself in deep shit with this nonsense. And you damn well better not be smoking.
She hadn’t been, but the moment he sent that little order, she instantly felt like finding a pack of cigarettes. She didn’t, because she had really wanted to quit. She started after her parents had died, when strangers around her seemed to be sucking the life out of her and she couldn’t find a way to make them stop. She didn’t know how to protect herself from the bombardment of their illnesses for the longest time, so she kept to herself as much as possible.
She’d been so exhausted she hadn’t been able to move. Not just for a few days or weeks; it had taken months to recover after her father died. Even now, sometimes a long walk could make her lungs burn for air and leave her body exhausted.
“Are you going to sit in your car daydreaming, Seychelle?” Doris demanded, startling her. “Come out of there and have some tea and cookies.”
Seychelle heard her phone play “Wrong Side of Heaven” by Five Finger Death Punch and knew Savage was texting her. He had stopped after their exchange eight days earlier. It had gone on for too long, and she’d let it, engaging with him because she couldn’t help herself. That was the trouble. She just couldn’t stop herself where he was concerned.
Ignoring her phone, she waved at Doris and hopped out of the car. “I was contemplating whether to start on the stairs right away or drink tea. I’m not the best carpenter, and if I mess up your stairs, it will be terrible. I won’t have time to fix them before tomorrow.”
“I have a back door in the kitchen, Seychelle, that leads to the outside,” Doris said. “I can always use that if I have to. Let’s have tea and sit on the front porch in the rocking chairs. It’s ready now. It will get bitter and cold if we wait.”
Seychelle couldn’t help but admire the woman. She was just so pragmatic about everything. Her porch had needed repairs for a long while. The stairs were so bad that she had to avoid one of them to keep from falling through, and the railing around the porch was rickety, yet she was all smiles and welcoming. Her favorite thing was to sit with visitors on her porch in the rocking chairs and just talk.
“Sounds like a plan. You get the tea and I’ll get the tools. I can get set up out here while you’re getting everything together.”
Five Finger Death Punch played again, warning her that Savage was getting restless with her lack of replying. It made her want to smile. She was certain if she texted him first, he would take his sweet time answering, but she never did. She wouldn’t. She was lonely and she knew it. She didn’t have friends her own age. She couldn’t. She didn’t know how to protect herself. It was easier just to stay in the little world she’d created for herself. When she needed to, she would find people like Hank and his really bad band, sing with them for a short while and then, when it got too much, she’d quit and walk away.
Doris waved at her, turned to open her screen and disappeared inside her house. Seychelle pulled her phone out of her back pocket and looked down at the message.
You aren’t home.
Her heart jumped and then accelerated. He was somewhere very close. She was almost afraid to inhale, afraid if she did, she’d take him into her lungs. She immediately texted back:
Visiting an old friend.
She thought that was very clever. She wasn’t even lying.
Better be a female friend.
Sheesh, the man could text fast. Where had he learned to do that? Smiling, she sent a few laughing faces his way that
told him nothing at all. He sent her back a series of hands smacking bare butt cheeks, which made her burst out laughing and grow warm at the same time. Truth be told, her panties went a little damp. Where did one even get emojis like that?
She pocketed her phone and carried the wood and then her pink toolbox up to the porch, feeling inexplicably happy. She loved sparring with Savage. It was insane and a little bit like poking a tiger, but it was thrilling and made her feel alive when most of her days were spent alone on long rambles, hiking to the waterfalls or walking the headlands.
Doris poured tea from her blue polka-dotted teapot into two mismatched polka-dotted cups. The saucers were different colors as well. It was Seychelle’s favorite set out of all the tea sets Doris had—and she’d collected quite a few over the years. The little sugar pot was very cute, with hot pink polka dots, and the creamer holding milk had red dots.
Doris had a plate of oatmeal raisin cookies as well as chocolate chip cookies because she never wanted to be caught without something for her guests. The little table had plates and napkins because Doris believed in making her visitors feel special.
“You really don’t have to fix my stairs, Seychelle,” she said as she rocked gently and looked out over her small garden of roses. “You know I just love your company.”
“I’ve really had fun learning all about it,” Seychelle admitted, pouring genuine enthusiasm into her voice. “I don’t think I’m ever going to be a master carpenter, but I like learning new things. This has been a challenge. I just hope I don’t find dry rot or whatever they call it when I take off the top boards. The man at the mill told me I should have checked.”
The tea was excellent as usual, a black currant, one Seychelle had never had before and probably wouldn’t have thought of trying. She had learned Doris was very adventurous with her tea choices. When she’d asked her about it, Doris had laughed and said she had few ways left at her age to be adventurous.
“Well then, dear, I suppose I’ll find my old pair of overalls and help you, although once I get down on my knees, you might need to call the fire department to get me back up again.” Doris burst out laughing.
Seychelle laughed with her, feeling lighter than she had in a long while. Doris was genuine in her moments of sheer joy. “I don’t think I’ll need help. You can sit in the rocking chair and advise me.”
“But there might be some cute single firemen,” Doris objected. “I’ll sacrifice the knees to find you a man.”
As if on cue, Seychelle heard the unmistakable rumble of a Harley as it approached. She took a sip of the black current tea, her pulse kicking into high speed. Immediately, every nerve ending in her body went on alert. Her gaze jumped to the street. He was there on the bike, looking every inch the dangerous biker. He didn’t so much as glance up to check if she was on the porch; he just drove right up as if he owned the place and was there every day, parked his Harley behind her Mini Cooper and got off with that hot fluid grace that took her breath every time.
“Oh my,” Doris said, fanning herself. “It looks like we have company. I wore my watch with the heart monitor, and it’s a good thing. That man would give any woman a heart attack.”
“I agree one hundred percent, but let’s not tell him. He’s already arrogant enough,” Seychelle whispered, taking a bite out of an oatmeal cookie and trying not to wish it was Savage.
She watched him stalk up the walkway like some jungle cat, setting her heart pounding. Muscles rippled visibly beneath the tight black tee he wore under his open vest with his Torpedo Ink colors. He didn’t stop coming, taking the steps, his weight making them sag and creak, blocking out the view until he was the only thing she saw. His large frame. That broad chest. The intimidating muscles that went on forever. Eyes so blue they could be a glacier but burning so intense they were like a flame moving over her. Lines carved deep in his face. Strong jaw.
“Scared the crap out of me, woman. Don’t fuckin’ disappear on me like that again. Next time, I’ll have the cops lookin’ for you, and you know how I feel about them.”
He bent and brushed a kiss on top of her head. Just that gesture, coupled with the intensity in his blue eyes, set her heart pounding.
“Would you care to introduce me to your friend, Seychelle?” Doris said, her voice a little faint. She fanned herself with her hand. “I can get a chair from the kitchen so he can join us.”
“I’m Savage, ma’am.”
He introduced himself because Seychelle couldn’t find her voice. She pressed her fingers to her lips and stared at him, shocked that he could do that to her, just short-circuit her brain with that look on his face.
Savage threaded his fingers through Seychelle’s left hand. “I’m her fiancé.” There was a trace of amusement in his voice, although his expression didn’t change. He looked as scary as ever. “Been missing her, and she forgot to check in with me again, so I came looking.”
Doris’s gaze dropped to Seychelle’s bare finger. One eyebrow arched.
Seychelle tugged at her hand, finally managing to find her voice. “He’s full of it. He’s my
“She says that because Ice hasn’t finished the ring yet.” The pad of his thumb slid over her ring finger once. “Looks like you’re working on repairing the stairs?” He made it a question. “Have you checked the supports under them, baby?” He was already reaching for the toolbox. He drew his hand back and turned slowly to level his glacier-cold eyes on Seychelle. “What is this supposed to be?”
She did her best to glare. It was difficult when Doris giggled like a schoolgirl and fanned herself again. Savage’s hand did look ludicrous hovering above her pink toolbox. Nevertheless, she refused to smile, sticking her chin in the air. “I presume you are speaking of my toolbox in that derogatory tone.”
“Is that what you call this thing?”
“It is a perfectly good toolbox.” She gave him her snippiest look.
“Seychelle.” His tone said it all. “It’s pink.”
She raised her eyebrow. “I’m really becoming concerned over your lack of imagination when it comes to color. I’ve noticed your motorcycle is an unrelenting black. And then there’s your clothes. All black again. There’s a theme here. Black. You need color in your life, Savage.”